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Orioles Minor League Recap: Aberdeen Ironbirds

A successful season for the Aberdeen squad, resulting in the first postseason appearance in club history

Hunter Harvey makes his first start with the Ironbirds
Hunter Harvey makes his first start with the Ironbirds
Matt Shaffner

Short-Season A-Ball is typically a stop for draftees from the most recent draft. 2013 saw 19 of the O's 2013 draft class make an appearance with the Ironbirds, including late-season performances from the first 3 O's selections: RHP Hunter Harvey, CF Josh Hart, and C Chance Sisco.

The season did not, however, get off to an auspicious start. The 'Birds lost their first 5 games, were outscored 28-7, and were shutout twice. But by the end of the first week of July they had turned their season around, winning 5 straight to start the month with a 29-10 run differential. They finished the year at 40-32, winning the McNamara Division thanks to a 5-0 stretch to end the season. Their division victory earned them a 1st Round playoff matchup with Houston Astros affiliate Tri-City. In spite of two masterful pitching performances, the Ironbirds were swept out of the best of 3 series in two games; shutout both times on offense. But there was much to be encouraged about from the individual players on the team. Let's have a look at some of them.

The offense was paced by a powerful troika of 2013 draft picks: CF Mike Yastrzemski, 1B Trey Mancini, and OF Conor Bierfeldt. The 22-year-old Bierfeldt lead the New York Penn League in both Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) and Weighted Runs Created+ (wRC+) with a .402 wOBA and a 161 wRC+. His 12 home runs ranked 2nd in the league while he lead the league in SLG (.511), OPS (.862) and ISO (.247). I personally got to witness him launch a rather majestic shot to LF at one game. His bat will be his carrying tool, and he will advance as far as that takes him. He's one to watch in Delmarva next season.

Mike Yastrzemski (grandson of Carl) was taken by the O's in the 14th round out of Vanderbilt. He's a slight lefty with a good command of the strike zone and good instincts and reactions in the field. Like Bierfeldt, he maintained an above 10% BB rate, but with a K% 6 points lower. A .273/.362/.420 slash line is quite acceptable from a center fielder with strong defensive skills as well (7 OF Assists and 0 Errors). He did, however, get thrown out attempting to steal 8 times in 16 attempts. Definitely going to have to improve there. His margin for error is small, as his stature and power may not translate into a corner outfield position, where he may well be driven before long thanks to a player who I will get to mentioning in a moment.

But first, let's give a nod to Trey Mancini. A hulking fellow, Mancini was drafted in the 8th round out of Notre Dame. A well rounded hitter, he slashed .328/.382/.449. Those marks were good for 2nd/5th/8th in the NYPL, while his .831 OPS ranked 2nd behind only Bierfeldt. His BB% was low at just 7.0%, but so was his K% (15.1%). The O's could certainly use a nice power hitting prospect in the system. Mancini could be the 2014 version of Christian Walker, as he'll probably start in Delmarva where he'll have an opportunity to feast on pitching he may be more advanced than.

The most prolific name coming into the season for the Ironbirds was 3B Hector Veloz. Unfortunately, it was a dreadful season for the former Bonus Baby. .213/.277/.332, he struggled with his approach all season, striking out in over 30% of his PAs. He's still just 19 though, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if he is held back to start the season with Aberdeen again. If he comes out of the gate hot he could get a quick promotion to Delmarva.

So...who is this mystery man that threatens to drink Mike Yastrzemski's milkshake? It's Josh Hart, who was promoted from the GCL late in the season. Hart only got 11 PAs over 3 games, and he didn't do much of anything with them, but it was clear throughout the season that this kid is quite a talent. He'll be just 19 next season, but he already has a decent command of the strike zone, runs the bases well, and plays just superb defense out in center field. Though I think it unlikely at the moment, the O's could choose to be aggressive with him and start him off at Delmarva. More likely though, I think he starts off in Aberdeen again, which would allow Yastrzemski a chance to prove his bona fides with the Shorebirds.

Wow. Was there ever a lot of pitching on this squad. 21-year-old RHP Sebastian Vader made his 2nd go 'round in the NYPL an impressive one. 13 starts with a 2.43 ERA over 85.1 IP. He allowed just 70 hits, with only one of those being a HR, and sported a 64:18 K:BB ratio. He'll form part of an interesting and exciting rotation in Delmarva next season. Joining him will be 2013 9th round pick LHP Mitch Horacek, who made 11 starts, tossing 64.2 innings of 2.78 ERA ball. Like Vader, a little light on the Ks with just 45 (6.3 per 9), but with exceptional control: just 7 BBs and 1 HR allowed. Fellow 2013 draft pick (11th round) and southpaw, Stephen Brault also fared quite well. 12 starts, but only 43.0 IP due to pitch counts I suppose, he sported a 2.09 ERA with a 22.5% K rate.

There was also a duo 21-year-old RHP relievers who made themselves known: 2013 13th round pick Jimmy Yacabonis and Alexander Santana, out of the Dominican Republic. Santana plowed through hitters to the tune of a 33.8% K rate and 12.8 K/9. He did walk 18 over his 33.2 IP, but you take the good with the bad. Yacabonis wasn't quite as overpowering, but he did manage to K 28 over his 29.2 IP. And though he walked 14 over that span, he maintained a 1.52 ERA by keeping the ball in the yard. 37 ground ball outs and no HRs allowed. That'll play.

But all of that is mere appetizer to the main course. The steak who brought the sizzle: RHP and 2013 1st round selection Hunter Harvey. Double H didn't ascend to Aberdeen until August 20th, spending the intervening 2 months after being drafted down in Sarasota. But from the time he debuted he made it clear that he, a mere 3 months out of high school, was much better than the mostly college aged hitters he was facing. Just 12.0 IP in the regular season, he K'd 15 and BB'd just 4 using mostly just his magnificent fastball and hammer curve, while flashing a modest change. A 2.25 ERA was nice enough, but the 1.70 FIP is downright divine. And then there was the playoff start. Facing elimination, Harvey went and tossed 5 no-hit & no-walk innings while K'ing 7 (the 2 runners who reached were both via HBP). Just dominant. He has nothing to prove in short-season ball so he will go and head Delmarva's rotation to start the year next season, and he will do so with a growing volume of scouting raves and reviews. Baseball Prospectus is going to be blowing Harvey up come prospect list season. Look for him to slot into the top 50, possibly very easily. And he will be the O's 2nd ranked prospect, trailing just Dylan Bundy. If you have the chance to, go see this kid pitch.